Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Archive for August 7th, 2010

A perfect pub – Barley Mow, Soutshea, Portsmouth

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There is something about the perfect beer pub. You actually feel it the moment you walk in the door. The atmosphere embraces you like an old friend. You might have never have crossed its threshold before but you know exactly where you are and why you are there.

But what makes the perfect beer pub? Is it the building and its location? Is it the people who work there? The people who drink there? The beers they serve? There are thousands of places selling beer in the UK – but how many are perfect beer pubs? Sadly not many.

A two-bar, street corner local, the Barley Mow, in Soutshea, Portsmouth is an Enterprise Pub, was shut when Judith Burr took it on. But a few short years later is it experiencing a resurgence thanks to her vision and enthusiasm. The Barley Mow is no foodies pub, the offering is simple chilli con carne, baked potato, a toastie or a roll. But beer is at the heart of this perfect pub. The pub now has seven different beer pumps on the bar. It started with two.

The pub serves Gales HSB & Fullers London Pride permanently and four guest ales from a wide variety of breweries. Hopback, Hogsback, Ringwood, Hooknorton, Tripple FFF & The Hidden Brewery & a mild to name but a few.

It is in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and the pub has close links with the local branch.

Judith said:“I see real ale as the way forward. We offer variety and choice and say we can find a beer for any customer. Quality starts in the cellar and all the staff are trained to clean a beer line when a new cask is put on. Our customer range from students to college professionals, workmen and retired people. Ladies can come in on their own or in small groups because they feel safe.

“Beer drinkers are better behaved, they come in for a drink and rather than get drunk. We have comfortable seating because most people want to relax.

“You have to be brave to be a successful seller of beer as you will sometimes lose beer and have to throw it away. There is no point in struggling to sell something if it is going off. But it pays off in the end.”

A perfect local - the Barley Mow in Portsmouth

A perfect local - the Barley Mow in Portsmouth


Written by timhampson

August 7, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Don’t be bitter it is taste that counts

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So what colour should a best bitter beer  be? I was recently a judge at the Great British Beer Festival’s Champion Beer of Britain and sat on the Best Bitters panel. In the beer style guidelines we were given “best bitters” were described as being “typically brown, tawny, copper, or amber but can be paler”. Without exception every one of the beers was a golden yellow hue. So were they truly best bitters and are brown and tawny ales a throwback to the early days of industrialised brewing ? Are the golden ales a creation of Britain’s burgeoning craft brewing movement?And should the definition be changed to “typically golden but can be darker and even brown and tawny”.

On reflection, it’s taste that counts – not the colour. And anyway when did the term bitter only become associated with copper or bronze coloured brews? We have been using the term bitter to describe pale ales since the early 19th century. The style is broad and includes a great, range of colours, tastes and strengths. It was the Victorians who popularised these paler beers. In 1899, one of the early, great beer writers Alfred Barnard penned the following description for a popular West Country beer – “a bright sparkling beverage of a rich golden colour and possesses a nice delicate hop flavour”. Another contemporary writer describes a bitter as being “straw coloured”. The term bitter came into common usage, in an era, before the use of pump clips with a beer’s name on. Brewers called the beer “pale”, but ordinary folk used the term “bitter”. There was nothing on the bar to tell the customer they should be asking for pale ale, and so they requested a “bitter” to show they didn’t want the sweeter, less hopped mild.

In the 1800s, paler malts were first used not to provide colour to beer, but because they were easier to ferment and therefore more efficient and cheaper than the brown malts then used for making porter. A change in the tax laws in the 1840s, bought about the widespread use of glassware in pubs. Almost at a stroke, beer had to do much more than taste good it had to look good too. The era of golden beers had begun.

But when sitting in a pub we should do more than drink with our eyes. In the final swallow, it is taste that really matters. There are too many golden bitters that are dull and bland – mimicking tasteless yellow British style lagers. Sadly, these will win few converts to the joys of flavoursome beer.

Written by timhampson

August 7, 2010 at 6:56 am